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Enhancing the quality of life for all Queensland communities

Andrew Johnson

SWQ Branch President

Director Operations, CEO Designate, Somerset Regional Council

SWQ Branch committee

Andrew Johnson (Branch President)

Director Operations, CEO Designate, Somerset Regional Council

Dereck Sanderson (Vice President)

District Director (Darling Downs), 

Department of Transport and Main Roads

Maddy Stahlhut (Ambassador)

Graduate Engineer


Luke Tanner

Manager Works, Goondiwindi Regional Council

Shelley Burchett

Assets Manager, Proterra Group

Seren McKenzie

Director Infrastructure Services, Southern Downs Regional Council

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For the June 2020 SWQ Branch President's Report, Branch committee members were asked to respond to three questions. 

Andrew Johnson, Branch President CEO, Somerset Regional Council

What has been the biggest challenge for your council/ organisation?

Responding to changing goal posts as the various level restrictions were put in place, while keeping staff calm in a period of unprecedented uncertainty.

Are you resourced and ready for an infrastructure boom? Or has your workforce been depleted and you won’t be able to respond?

Not only is the Somerset Team ready, we have prepared the market to ensure they will be in a position to respond to quotes/ tenders when funding is made available. We have also largely maintained our construction activities during the pandemic by taking a risked based approach to ensure the safety of our staff and contractors.

Any other key point you would like to make.

Effective communication and a willingness to try new things have been key to being able to continue to deliver services to our community, from our librarians doing live story time via Facebook to live streaming audio of Council meetings to our field staff staggering start times and using electronic means to record attendance at morning toolbox meetings.

Shelley Burchett, Assets Manager, Proterra Group

What has been the biggest challenge for your organisation?

The biggest challenge for our business has been the isolation which comes with people working from home. In particular, our people with school-aged children needed to home-school their kids as well as do their day job. This has placed stress on people in this position as they try to balance work, schooling and home life. As an organisation, we have supported our people through daily check-ins and the redistribution of work as needed. This has helped our office team to remain connected and even strengthened working relationships as the team pulled together, supporting each other in an unusual and uncertain time. Our field survey teams have had their own challenges, working away in regional and remote communities where fear of strangers sometimes permeates in small towns. We worked closely with our local councils to ensure that everything we did was as safe as possible and allowed council to continue their essential services with minimal disruption. Our field teams have stepped up admirably to manage the challenge of working out in the field in the time of COVID-19.

Is the way we work about to change forever?

As our business is focused around providing essential services to local government in regional areas, we don’t see major changes to the way we work. Our office staff always had the ability to work from home and many did when they knew that they were more productive at home. The effect of COVID-19 has certainly removed any inhibitions that our people may have had about working from home and forced them to understand their own capacity to be productive at home and to develop strategies to cope with a distracting work environment. For office staff, we expect working from home will become more common and that our people will be more productive when at home. As our field staff generally work in teams of two, we don’t see major changes to how they work.

Is your organisation resourced and ready for an infrastructure boom?

Absolutely! Our business is definitely ready. Our people are more engaged than ever and keen to support our regional councils in any way we can. We have continued to tender and win work over the last four months and consequently, we have employed more people to ensure that regional councils can continue to deliver projects for their communities. Our hope is that state and federal governments roll out effective stimulus packages that put funds into the hands of regional and remote councils for the development of the critical infrastructure that councils need, increasing the employment of local people in regional areas. Bring on the infrastructure boom!

Maddy Stahlhut, Ambassador Graduate Engineer, GHD Toowoomba

What has been the biggest challenge for your organisation?

The biggest challenge for GHD has been the transition for a majority of staff to work from home in a relatively short timeframe. This meant nearly 10,000 people across the world using the same network remotely. While it was challenging, overall, my colleagues have embraced the change and have adapted accordingly.

Is the way we work about to change forever?

As far as the future is concerned, I believe the way we work will change, for example, allowing more people the ability to work from home. Before COVID-19, I was sceptical of the work from home concept but have found that once you find your groove, you can be just as productive as working in the office. I do think that the majority of people will return to the office, simply for social interaction. This is a big factor for me as I enjoy face-to-face contact with my colleagues. I think one benefit that will emerge from this period is that people who work in the city, in a company with regional offices, will have been exposed to what it is like to dial-in remotely and will have a greater understanding of the issues we face moving forward.

Is your organisation resourced and ready for an infrastructure boom?

GHD is definitely resourced and ready for an infrastructure boom. Our day-to-day operations have not changed significantly since the pandemic started, and our global network is ready to deliver all projects which come our way.

Luke Tanner, Manager Works, Goondiwindi Regional Council

What has been the biggest challenge for your council/ organisation?

In the early stages of the response to COVID-19, the biggest challenge was the lack of clear guidance on how the workforce would be impacted. In the early stages there was a lot of fear and speculation within the workforce about crews being shut down and having to exhaust their leave entitlements. To date, we have not experienced a positive COVID-19 case in our local government area and all works’ crews have continued operating while practising social distance. There have been minor impacts on availability of material, but nothing significant. As the state government response to COVID-19 progressed to border closures, that became our next biggest challenge. The Goondiwindi Regional Council has border crossings on nine maintained roads, four of which are state-controlled. Council’s border with New South Wales also joins three different NSW local government areas. The border closures have evolved over time, commencing with manned crossings on two major roads and signs which could be driven around (if you had an exemption) on the other roads. This then progressed to physical barriers on all but the major roads which do not allow any traffic to cross. We now have a situation where two crossings are manned, two have physical barriers and five are controlled by smart padlocks administered by council and Queensland police to allow locals with a special permit to cross the border to conduct their operations.

Is the way we work about to change forever?

I don’t think the way we work will change significantly. There will be an increase in use of virtual communication technologies going forward but, overwhelmingly, the people I work with can’t wait to get back to meeting in person. We have learned a lot about video conferencing and working remotely in the last couple of months, but so much can still be lost without that face to face communication.

Is your organisation resourced and ready for an infrastructure boom?

Our organisation is not resourced for an infrastructure boom but we are watching this space with interest. One of the biggest infrastructure projects that will impact our region in the coming years is inland rail. We need to remain flexible in our resourcing to allow us to return to normal following any boom.